In a guide released after last weekend’s mass shooting in El Paso, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists says news reporting on such events should focus on the community and the response—not the gunman.
A spate of recent mass shootings—in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend and at a festival in Gilroy, California, the previous week—have renewed debate over how they’re covered in the media.
In response to the El Paso attack in particular, which is being investigated as a hate crime against Hispanic immigrants, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists released a guide on Monday to help journalists “accurately and inclusively cover mass shootings.”
Ethical reporting on such tragedies is based on three concepts, NAHJ said:
- Empathy and education. Reporters need an understanding of the underlying factors behind a shooting and must recognize rhetoric that may shape readers’ perceptions of the affected community. “We need to be especially educated on how specific rhetoric can distort and control stories, and ensure that we are using the correct language in unbiased and fair reports,” the association states.
- A focus on the victims, rather than the perpetrator. Ethical reporting is characterized by “honoring the victims of the killing and acknowledging the heroes,” while avoiding a focus on the suspect, especially regarding any potential mental illness.
- A view to the future. Rather than simply reporting on the tragedy, reporters should look forward and highlight opportunities to “spark hope and change.”
“There were more murders this Saturday than in an average year in the city of El Paso,” NAHJ President Hugo Balta said in a news release. “It is a heart-wrenching reality to consider that mass shootings and hate crimes have become so prevalent in America that journalists must be reminded not only how to fairly and accurately report such tragedies, but also to be culturally sensitive and sensible in the portrayal of communities under attack.”
The guide also encourages journalists covering mass shootings to reach out for help, if necessary. “Please do not only acknowledge the pain of El Paso and of the Latino community, but also acknowledge your own,” NAHJ said. “Horror stories like this can be very painful and difficult to report.” The guide links to a resource page from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.
Journalism groups have been working in recent years to improve diversity reporting standards. A Diversity Style Guide from the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, published in 2016, borrows from the guidelines of NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the National Center on Disability and Journalism, among others.